Association News

Success, sustainability top FINAT agenda

July 14, 2010

In the old days, speakers at label congresses were mostly earnest men with flipcharts. The flipcharts have now long been replaced by Powerpoint, and the men, increasingly, by women. Even the earnestness is sometimes leavened with a little humor. FINAT's 2010 congress in Valencia, Spain, had all these ingredients, plus a generous selection of the best Spanish foods and wines.

The tabletop gathering at the 2010 FINAT Congress
Sustainability was the subject of the keynote speech (no surprises there): Sonia Raja, head of packaging for Tesco, the world's third largest retailer, also co-chairs the Global Packaging Project (GPP). Since the members of the GPP include the cream of the world's brand owners and retailers, Raja was given a respectful hearing by the 250 delegates to the congress. Industry needs a common business language and universally accepted units of measurement, she said, and sustainability, if it is to work, must embrace the economic and heath/safety aspects of packaging. And lest this sound rather pedestrian, Raja also described how she had herself visited a huge Chinese factory that recycles European shrink-wrap waste, where hundreds of workers were employed just to locate and cut off the paper labels which would otherwise upset the shredding and recycling process. For a serious contribution to the global warming debate, she added that the GPP is funding research to capture and quantify the methane given off by cows.

This year's FINAT Congress drew 250 delegates.
Measurement was also Jules Lejeune's theme. All major European labelstock producers submit their monthly shipment data to a confidential consultancy, which aggregates them before referring them to FINAT. This enabled Lejeune, as FINAT's general manager, to take the pulse of the European pressure sensitive label sector up to the end of Q1 of the current year.Last year the patient was practically on life support, he said; this time the message was "cautious optimism." The statistics showed year-on-year growth in Q1 at a healthy 12.5 percent for Europe as a whole, but with sharp variations between regions. Britain and Scandinavia both showed a fall below the (already horrible) figures for Q1 2009. However, the group comprising France, Italy and Spain/Portugal pulled off a rather surprising increase of 17.1 percent. Overall, reckons Lejeune, the European pressure sensitive industry will have recouped its losses by the end of this year. Although the market was picking up, he reminded his audience, the supply chain was in a mess due to some closures of paper mills, strikes in Scandinavia, and shortages of raw materials for films, inks and adhesives.

Of FINAT's 600 (mostly corporate) members, 350 are converters, and these figures are almost unchanged from last year, despite the downturn, said association President Andrea Vimercati. He listed the market reports and educational tools developed by and for FINAT members, and also stressed that FINAT now has a policy of "getting out to meet the end user" by exhibiting at selected shows. Since beverage labeling is considered a potential growth sector for pressure-sensitives, the first move will be to Nuremberg in November for the brewers' mega-show Brau 2010.

The Young Managers' Club, founded just two years ago, now has 55 members. It exists mainly as a self-help group for sons and daughters of label converters destined to take over their family businesses.

Doing something right
Successful CEOs who lecture about their own careers can often put an audience to sleep, but Frank Gerace, the newly retired boss of Multi-Color and chairman of TLMI, was a welcome exception. Gerace told the congress how in 15 years he had taken a near-bankrupt US-only converter with $48 million in sales to its present status as a highly profitable world leader selling $320 million a year.

Frank Gerace
Some of his ideas were unconventional. "When I took over, we made just one type of label in-mold and a single customer, Procter & Gamble, accounted for over half our sales. They say a label converter shouldn't try to be all things to all people, but that's just what I set out to be." Multi-Color today makes pressure sensitive, cut-and-stack, shrink sleeve and heat transfer labels, as well as IMLs. Unusually, for a company striving to meet all of its customers' label needs, only one of its 75 presses is digital.

Although the group has no production sites in Europe, it has a surprising 30 percent of its sales there. One of Gerace's last acts as CEO (apart from addressing the FINAT Congress) was to announce record income of more than $14 million for the year ending March 31. He modestly acknowledged that he must have been doing something right.

Other speakers at this year's FINAT Congress included Professor Bensaou of the European business school INSEAD, who developed his "blue ocean" strategy of value innovation, and Jrgen Convent of Henkel speaking on sustainability and corporate responsibility. A lighter, and perhaps more theatrical touch was provided by Nigel Barlow, Oxford-educated former barrister and author of Re-Think: How To Think Differently. Speaking at the end of a long day, he effortlessly held his audience's attention despite the sound of cocktails being prepared in the neighboring room.

FINAT's football match Spain vs. the Rest of the World ended in a draw. Our correspondent John Penhallow, right, was a force to be reckoned with.
FINAT congresses have always been preceded by a golf tournament. This year, for only the second time, the meeting was followed by a football match: Spain vs. Rest of the World. Despite attracting less media attention than the World Cup, the game was keenly contested, and the result, a 5-5 draw, left players and spectators satisfied and thirsty.

The 2011 FINAT Congress will be held in Taormina, Sicily, just close to Mount Etna. As one converter remarked, "After all we've been through this last year, meeting next to a volcano will be a cake-walk."